Phi Beta Cons

Technology, the New Collegiate Industry


In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, Jeff Selingo presents an interesting theory on how to “fix college.” He writes that “university leaders desperately need to transform how colleges do business.” He goes on to say that colleges must adapt and respond to the demand for change in the now debt-ridden industry by lowering costs and embracing technology.

The importance of flattening the skyrocketing costs of a college education has been talked about unceasingly in recent years, even as college degrees have come to be viewed as less of a luxury and more of an essential good:

The almost insatiable demand for a college credential meant that schools could raise their prices and families would go to almost any end, including taking on huge amounts of debt, to pay the bill. In 2003, only two colleges charged more than $40,000 a year. . . . by 2009, 224 were above that mark. The total amount of outstanding student loan debt is now more than $1trillion.

So what can colleges do to make getting a degree financially worth it? Selingo argues that they must embrace technology and follow the lead of top-tier universities like Stanford and Harvard, which are spending millions to provide many courses online for free.  

For now, these online courses, available to everyone, do not count for credits. But students who desire an education at an affordable cost may soon be heading for the Internet in great numbers. With online courses for credit, students could avoid room-and-board costs and also reduce the cost of tuition. They could also better tailor their curriculum and avoid taking courses that are not pertinent to their degrees. Moreover, studying from home, and online, would give students a better chance at holding down a part-time job to help cover the cost of their courses.

Every industry in today’s economy has had to embrace and adapt to technology to cut costs. In order to survive, we might soon see colleges doing the same.

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